BEFORE JAMESTOWN… Before Christopher Columbus?


  “In fourteen hundred ninety-two…

Columbus sailed the ocean blue…” 

So went the 5th-grade, jingle which launched some of the Columbus Day classroom excursions, at the Rosenwald Elementary School, across the road from Kentucky State College (Frankfort, KY, circa 1954, ’55). And, I still recall the catchy names of those ships:  the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria.   

But, little did I realize that I’d later come to scoff at the whole sanctimonious idea of this middle-class, Italian navigator being honored for “discovering” America.  The faulty reasoning that followed his so-called discovery still teaches that black people didn’t arrive on these shores- owned by God and occupied by the Native American Indian- until an unnamed Dutch warship arrived at the Jamestown, Virginia settlement with 20 Africans “of undetermined origin” as part of the “cargo.” 

Arguably, history records these Africans as captured by Dutch sailors, who robbed a Spanish ship, later trading them to American colonists for food, etc.  Some eventually became indentured servants, free land owners, even Christians and affluent slave owners, themselves.  According to one particular archival accounting, one in the bunch later became the master of a white servant. 

However, these are the recorded Euro-centric perspectives (European view of human development) by early historians.  Other points of view, equate an Afro-centric view of human development, reaching back far beyond the happenings at Jamestown and Plymouth Rock.  Along with the standard Euro-centric exposures, my educational experiences included balanced doses of Afro-centric views, as well- just as methodically dissected, just as vigorously presented and just as contentiously expounded.  And, while they may seem shocking to some, controversial to a few and even downright blasphemous to others, let me simply say outright that divergent points of view don’t bother me a bit.  In fact, they’re welcomed and useful at developing or further objectifying the human story or condition.  After all, in my humble opinion, we’re all some part “cousin” within God’s majestic design!  And, as soon as America- especially the United States of America– accepts this premise, we can move on to resolving more complex and pressing societal issues.

Frankly, I feel honored to extol and extend the painstaking, scholarly research and teachings of several so-called Afro-centrist historians.  Historians like Dr. Edgar Toppin, Dr. John Hope Franklin, Dr. Chancellor Williams, Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop and Ivan Van Sertima.  Yes, there are others, surely.  But, over the years, I have either completed classroom work or independent study within the framework of their research as foundational resource, although my core of study involved journalism and business pursuits.  Yet, regardless of local school board curricular mandates, I highly recommend that the work of any, or all, of these proven professionals be separately examined.  The footnotes of their research, alone, are parallel spheres of study, within their own right.

Reviews of their work helped me to appreciate the richness and fullness of ancient African culture since mankind first emerged in Africa, allegedly some 200,000 years earlier.  Plus, the related anthropological, sociological, linguistic and historical compositions of other African history “specialists,” such as Philip Curtin, Steven Feierman, Leonard Thompson and Jan Vansina, further tweaked my interest and understanding of the complexness, greatness and diffuseness of the geopolitical contributions stemming from African culture.

Down through the ages, from the various Bantu expansions, African/ Egyptian civilizations, to the early political  states of the Sahara and West Africa and the great kingdoms of Ghana, Mali and Songhai, to the spread of black culture through migration and trade routes from the River Gambia to the Nile and East Africa- long before plantation slavery and the ugly trade in black flesh and its corresponding arrival in the Americas- Africa has contributed greatly to the development of world cultures.  Yet, shamefully, the true history of Africa and/or black history never really matured, or was fully recognized, until around the period of the Civil Rights Movement (circa 1960s), in this nation.

By default, many lost opportunities are associated within these cultural distortions or omissions, as with the distortions and/or omissions- intentional or unintentional– of other indigenous groups such as the Australian Aborigine, the Alaskan Eskimo, the Pacific Polynesians, the Peruvian Inca and Mexico’s highly developed Mayan civilization.  This includes the once powerful and flourishing American Indian tribes- well before Jamestown or the arrival of British, French and Spanish explorers, bent on beefing up or expanding their own national coffers and sovereignties.

In the process, significant anthropological discoveries were lost or systematically minimized, robbing the world of additional social and cultural enlightenment.  This includes, for example, the discovery of an ancient African presence in the Americas, between 1400 and 400 BC (or, BCE) – long before Jamestown, before Columbus!

More specific, the “Olmec” culture of ancient “Laventa” (present-day Mexico, near Veracruz and Tabasco), along the Gulf of Mexico, a “Mesoamerican civilization,” was said to have laid the groundwork for civilizations that followed.  Arguably, it was concluded by some historians that the four large, “Negroid Stone-Heads” found there, facing the Atlantic, reinforced a theory that these and seven other “Olmec” sites were “…governed by Negroid Africans and Middle-eastern Caucasians between 800-600 BC.”  Whatever the reason for its decline or extinction (environmental, massacre, etc.), the evidence associated with the findings of this culture are archaeologically sound and based on radio carbon dates (technique using radioactive active isotopes to certify archaeological specimens).  According to research data, this certification was published in 1957.

But, why is this still important, today?  Why even bother introducing such information that contradicts long-established historical research and teachings?  Well, it’s simply the right thing to do, at least for me. It’s also consistent with the broader idea of pursuing certain historical truths, countering centuries of sustained attempts, for whatever reasons, to deny, suppress or snuff out the rich contributions of any people.

The contribution of the “Olmec” culture is a mere pebble tossed in the pond of a vast amount of historical inaccuracies or omissions, rippling throughout the ages of recorded time.  This includes America’s search for truth and independence, and possibly some sense of spiritual or national redemption, within the framework of our own “Declaration of Independence,” where we so eloquently set forth the injustices and “usurpations” by the then King of Great Britain.  Yet, before the Euro-centric complaint of the colonies, perhaps the complaint of the aboriginal Americas, including the Native American Indian culture, still needs to be heard, within a more proper context.  Just perhaps…

BUT, WHAT DO YOU THINK?  Is America’s history before Jamestown and/or before Christopher Columbus, even significant, today?

“Backstreet Djeli” w.d.s 

(Previously posted @, during June 2010)

About William "Duke" Smither (a.k.a., "Backstreet D'jeli")

William "Duke" Smither, author of “BACKROADS TO 'BETHLEHEM': Odysseys of the Maroon Warrior, in the Shadows of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade,” is a Frankfort Kentucky native; Richmond Virginia resident. Retired Public Utility Sr. Investigator and nuclear site worker, Married w/ 3 children and 6 grandchildren; U.S. Navy Viet Nam Era & Cuban Missile Crisis Veteran; Member of "Cuban Blockade Survivors" & The American Legion; B.S. Degree (Business Mgmt) w/ independent studies in Ancient African History and African-American History. Post-graduate studies in Criminal Justice Administration. Former Sports & Feature writer for the weekly Richmond Afro-American Newspaper, during Freshman year of college. Retirement activities include: Freelance writer, playwright, actor and director of faith-based community theater productions; founder of "Backstreet's Blog" ("Talking Drum Dialogues") at and former contributing writer for "BlackPast.Org," the international, on-line reference center for African American History. His debut novel, “BACKROADS TO 'BETHLEHEM': Odysseys of the Maroon Warrior…,” is the first installment of a possible historical-fiction trilogy. A second installment ["Passage(s) to Saint-Domingue...."] is pending completion.